House panel heads under scrutiny, revamp seen

Speaker Lord Allan Velasco said Monday he will review committee chairmanships at the House of Representatives during the congressional recess to determine who is performing and who needs to be replaced.

POWER LUNCH. New Speaker Lord Allan Velasco (right) meets with former President and Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo over lunch on Monday, a week after the change of speakership at the House of Representatives.
"There are some posts that really need changing mainly because some of the posts require the trust and confidence of the speaker," Velasco said.

Also on Monday, Velaso assured the public that the 2021 national budget passed by the House was bereft of pork barrel.

In a radio interview, Velasco said the House's new leadership made sure that the budget was not only approved on time but was without any constitutional infirmity.

In another development, lawmakers have committed to increase the P2.5 billion budget for the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines under the proposed P4.5-trillion budget for 2021, Health Undersecretary Rosario Vergeire said on Monday.

Vergeire’s statement was made in response to earlier statements made by the Health Department and a number of lawmakers who already expressed concerns that the P2.5 billion allocation under President Rodrigo Duterte’s proposed budget is not enough to vaccinate 20 million poor Filipinos as targeted by President.

At the same time, Velasco said he is willing to talk to his predecessor, Taguig-Pateros Rep. Alan Peter Cayetano to offer him the position of senior deputy speaker, a suggestion that the latter has already rejected.

"We will find out when I offer it to him personally," Velasco told a television interview. "If he would allow, I would like to talk to him again.”

Velasco said he will give Manila Rep. Bienvenido Abante Jr. a House post after quitting as minority leader and joining the majority bloc even if the latter is "still under evaluation."

He also said Pampanga Rep. Mikey Arroyo will head the House committee on energy—the position Velasco vacated when he became Speaker.

Velasco said he made the offer to Cayetano “out of respect” and said he abided by their term-sharing agreement, which was brokered by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Under that agreement, the only positions that would be changed after the turnover was the chairman of the House committee on accounts, but Velasco said there were other posts that required the trust and confidence of the speaker.

Still, he said, he kept his promise to Majority Leader Martin Romualdez to keep him at his post.

Velasco appointed Davao City Rep. Paolo Duterte as chairperson of the House committee on accounts, replacing Cavite Rep. Abraham Tolentino, a known Cayetano ally.

Another Cayetano ally, Camarines Sur Rep. Luis Raymund Villafuerte, was stripped of his deputy speaker post; and 1-Pacman party-list Rep. Mikee Romero took his position.

Romero, president of the Party-List Coalition Foundation Inc. (PCFI) and a Velasco ally, was removed from his post when Cayetano was still speaker.

The 42-year-old speaker took over from ousted Speaker Cayetano, who was voted out of office by 186 of the 299-member chamber when he refused his term sharing “gentlemen's agreement” with Velasco on the pretext that he wanted to still be the Speaker when he celebrates his 50th birthday.

Deputy Majority Leader and Bagong Henerasyon Rep. Bernadette Herrera lauded Velasco for ensuring the “timely, legal and constitutional” approval of the proposed P4.5 trillion national budget for 2021.

“Speaker Velasco earned my respect more after he made true on his promise to lead the House into approving the budget on a timely, legal and constitutional manner,” Herrera said.

Herrera also said she admired Velasco for his resolve to create a more inclusive House where there’s freewheeling of exchanges among members as shown during the deliberation and approval of the 2021 budget.

“In fact, his first order of business as speaker was to revoke an earlier second reading approval of the 2021 spending plan and reactivate the plenary debates to give all lawmakers the chance to scrutinize the budget bill,” Herrera said.

Unlike the previous leadership, Velasco also made Congress safe for its members to return and carry out their constitutional duty to legislate, Herrera said.

Velasco said the Department of Public Works and Highways (DPWH) budgets for Taguig City and Camarines Sur, bailiwicks of Cayetano and Villafuerte, were approved unchanged, even though some lawmakers had questioned why they were so high.

Velasco also acknowledged the role that an endorsement from Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte played in getting him elected as speaker.

“Mayor Sara Duterte was a big help. We know that Ma'am Sara wields a lot of influence,” Velasco said. “And I think that was a big push in my assumption as speaker,” he added.

Velasco said the House would maintain its independence from the executive branch, even though members of the Duterte family had supported him.

The House will not be a Palace rubber stamp, he said.

There were signs, however, that the budget would face rough sailing at the Senate.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said the claim of House appropriations committee chairman Rep. Eric Yap that amendments to the budget would come from the implementing agencies would only muddle “an already constitutionally infirm and error-filled” budget.

Lacson said the authorization part of the four-phase budget process is under the exclusive jurisdiction of Congress. The executive should deal only with budget preparation and execution, he said.

“No amount of technicalities and sweet-talk maneuvers can correct a flawed budget that is supposed to address the problems and concerns of more than 100 million Filipinos,” Lacson said.

On Oct. 16, the House of Representatives approved on third and final reading the P4.5 trillion proposed national budget for 2021.

But as late as Monday, the House continued to tackle amendments through a so-called “small group.”

Lacon cited a constitutional provision that stated: "Upon the last reading of a bill, no amendment thereto shall be allowed, and the vote thereon shall be taken immediately thereafter, and the yeas and nays entered in the Journal.”

Senator Francis Pangilinan also said the House cannot introduce amendments to the approved budget through “errata.”

“This is not consistent with the constitutional process, of legislation,” Pangilinan said.

He said if the House has corrections, congressmen can present them during the bicameral conference committee, especially if the amounts are significant.

Senators raised concerns that the post-approval amendments might be made in the proposed 2021 national budget if the House will not immediately send the printed copy of the measure to the Senate.

Topics: Lord Allan Velasco , House of Representatives , COVID-19 , Rodrigo Duterte , Alan Peter Cayetano , National budget
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